You may also have noticed a lot of loose feathers in the coop and seen chickens either with fewer feathers than normal or with lots of pin feathers. This is normal and is part of their annual molt.
Molting is triggered by the changes in lighting that take place this time of year, as the sun sets earlier and rises later each day, moving from summer into winter. (This happens from the summer solstice around June 21 to the winter solstice around December 21).
While hens molt, they don’t lay much, if at all. They’re putting their energy into regrowing feathers. This is part of their normal yearly cycle to get ready for winter and replace broken and worn out feathers with fresh new ones. Once they’re done molting, they’ll have a beautiful new set of feathers, but while they’re molting, they look terrible.
During this time, they mostly need good quality feed and patience.
The important thing to know about molting is:
DON’T CULL YOUR LATE MOLTERS.
Some of your hens may start molting earlier than the others. (In the upper photo, the hen in the foreground is in the middle of the molt. Those standing behind and to her left have completed their molt already. You can tell that their feathers are new, as they are darker and richer in color, since they haven’t yet been bleached by the sun.)
Other chickens may delay as much as 4-6 weeks or even longer before they start their molt and stop laying. Typically some of your best hens will be the last to start their molt, so please don’t cull any non-laying birds at this time.
Those late molters will usually molt quickly and then go right on back to laying, so they’re only out of production for a short time. That’s part of the reason they’re your best layers.
Once all or nearly all of your hens are back to laying, that is a better time to look for any non-laying hens or poor layers that you could pull out of the flock. These older birds make very flavorful and nutritious soup, and this is a great way to make more room for new pullets that you may have raised as replacement layers.
Knowing which hens to cull, when to cull and when not to cull is a key for keeping your laying flocks productive. I’m developing a short seminar/workshop on maintaining a productive laying flock to give at the Homestead Fair. And if there’s enough interest, we may also offer a more in-depth seminar at other times in the year. Let us know if you’re interested.